It's hard to remember an issue that has galvanized women like our recent national conversation about sexual harassment and sexual assault. Women are angry, fed up, and speaking up. Harvey Weinstein's harassment of women, his bartering for sexual favors with his influence as an image-maker who could make or break actresses' careers, went largely unchecked for years. And unsurprisingly, he had a whole army of enablers--everyone from the agents and managers who knew and kept sending actresses his way to the lawyers who made settlements, effectively silencing women and allowing Weinstein to continue harassing them. I have heard from dozens of women who tell me memories they had long buried are rising to the surface--memories of being propositioned at work, harassed, assaulted in any number of fields.
The danger is that we might fool ourselves into thinking that once Weinstein is punished--if he even is, if it sticks--Hollywood is cleaned up. Or that harassment is only a problem there. It isn't. In ecologies from Wall Street to fraternities to BigLaw to tech, male sexual privilege and male power goes unchecked. Women who fight back are marginalized. There are far too many niches where men get away with it because they are "geniuses"--and their "out of control libidos," which are really just strategies to demean and humiliate women and keep themselves on top, are tolerated, even admired, as symptoms of them being guys who live large and color outside the lines.
Let's prosecute the bystanders and accomplices as accessories to sexual assault. Only then do we send a message that we won't tolerate the Weinsteins everywhere. And that covering for them is criminal, and not worth the risk.
Don't forget that the fish stinks from the head. We elected a tolerator of white supremacists (they're his base), a compulsive demeanor of women, and an admitted sexual harasser to our country's highest elected office. He is setting an example for every man and boy in this country--an example of entitlement. We can't tolerate it, or we will continue to live it.
Women of color, who have long been portrayed as hypersexual and available, are leading the way in the fight against systemic harassment, bias, and racism in workplaces and the larger world because, surprise, they go together, and until we get rid of them ALL, we're not done.
Here are some readings on the topic that have inspired me: